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Category Archives: Places


by June 6, 2013


Athens vs. Sparta

Athens and Sparta are often considered two of the most, if not the most, influential of the ancient Greek civilization; their progress in philosophy, literature and warfare would come to shape much of our idea of ancient Greece. There is no doubt that these civilizations were very influential.  However, it could be argued that they were influential in very different ways.

In fact, a case could be made that almost everything about these city-states was different. Athens was a civilization that rose from the plains and was exposed to the fresh air and the sea. They prided themselves in their discussions of politics and ethics, as well as their impressive contributions in literature and philosophy. Sparta was quite the opposite. A culture fortified in a deep valley, their civilization resembled more of an army encampment rather than a city. They were known for their devotion to military prowess and led a lifestyle that revolved around fighting and the glory of battle.
While Athens and Sparta were both dominant powers in ancient Greece, there existed a legendary rivalry between the two. This antagonism would flourish into The Peloponnesian War, a bloody engagement that would last for decades. Additionally, it is for their fierce rivalry and influence that they have often been the subject of much comparison and analysis.


spartan solider

statue of a Spartan warrior

Sparta, also known by its ancient name Lacedaemon in honor of their legendary founder, is often considered to have been the most dominant military presence in ancient Greece. Their infantry soldiers were suppose to have been the most skilled and fearsome warriors of the ancient world. They would owe their eventual victory in the Peloponnesian War to their dedication to warfare, and the ferocity of Spartan warriors would be later embellished in modern films such as 300.

This obsession with fighting was supported by their culture. The Spartan lifestyle, especially that of the Spartan men, was dedicated to learning the art of fighting and the craft of war. At birth, Spartan babies were examined for weaknesses. If they were deemed frail or deformed, they were tossed into a chasm on Mount Taygetos. At a young age the boys would be taken away from their homes and participate in an education system known as Agoge.  In this state mandated training curriculum, young male citizens would be taught how to be a warrior. They were educated in the ways of warfare, fighting as well as reading and writing. They would endure physical hardships and often be submitted to harsh, violent punishments.
This militaristic state was only possible because of the complex societal structure of Sparta. While native born Spartans enjoyed full rights and freedoms, there were others who were not so fortunate. The Perioikoi were a secondary type of Spartan citizen who, although not full citizens and therefore unable to participate in the Agoge training, still enjoyed freedom in the Spartan community. They acted as skilled craftsmen and reserve warriors when needed.

Leonidas at Thermopylae
by. Jacques-Louis David

The Helots were state owned serfs who bordered narrowly on being classified as slaves. The Helots were lower class citizens who were responsible for the agricultural stability of Sparta. It was only through the farming work of the Helots, that the other Spartans were able to free up their time to participate fully in their military training. Even though the Helots were essential to Spartan society, they were also prone to uprisings and would be a constant source of trouble for the Spartan city.
An interesting note about Spartan society was that women enjoyed a level of freedom that was unheard of in the ancient world. Spartan girls were fed the same food as their brothers, and they were not restricted to their homes as was common in Athens. The daughters and sisters of Sparta were allowed to play outdoors and even compete in sports. While it was common in other city-states to marry off girls at the age of 12 or 13, Spartan women tied the knot in their late teens or early twenties. This was done as an effort to spare women the health dangers of pregnancies in adolescents. As a result of their superior diet and bountiful exercise, Spartan women often lived into old age more frequently than in any other part of the ancient world.

Lagash and the Too Fertile Valley

by April 22, 2013

Tigris and Euphrates River

Tigris and Euphrates River

Between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lies a land known as Mesopotamia. It was here that men found suitable terrain, which they proceeded to pierce, rip, and seed. Once these seeds took root, civilization was born.
Unlike pastoral societies that roam around looking for food, agriculturalists sought unity by teaming together, settling in one spot, and growing their food. In doing so, they created a village, a society of their own. However, it takes more than farming to create a state.
After a few generations, people slowly began to build upon their knowledge of agriculture, animal husbandry, and writing. With these new found skills, plus many more, the villages gained a greater sense of the self. Such awareness allowed for the creation of law, trade, private property, social interest, internal order and identification. This development enabled the Mesopotamian villages that dotted the landscape to evolve into a series of city-states.
The Sumerians were the first to carve out a civilization in Mesopotamia. By the third millennium BCE, the land of Sumer consisted of a dozen or more of these city-states. They were walled, but still surrounded by suburban villages and hamlets.
In addition, the city-states of Sumer were centralized. Their centrally controlled society needed an administration to conduct the day-to-day redistribution of resources and to direct all social activity.
Lagash, like other city-states of its time, shared control over resources and social activities between the palace and the temple. The temple oversaw a great amount of land and exerted a powerful influence over the inhabitants. Meanwhile, the palace authority controlled as much, if not more, land than the temple. This arrangement was fine until later on, when the palace wielded an even greater command over the people. In doing so, the king was able to amalgamate the palace with the temple, in which the king saw himself as god’s own representative on earth.
If god chooses the king, then logically the temple must obey. However, this settlement does not mean there would never be strife again between the palace and temple authorities. So long as they existed side by side, the ambition to control and hold a monopoly over the other’s institution was desirable, especially if one wishes to control the masses. The divinity of the king, therefore, placed the temple in a predicament.
Eannatum in Lagash

Map of the region

The power struggle in Lagash was even more enticing when one contemplates what was at stake. The city was located northwest of the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and east of the city Uruk. Lagash was a fertile area, with irrigation canals feeding its farms via the Shatt al-Gharraf channel that filtered from the famous waters.
Consequently, Lagash grew bountiful crops and its location made it a prime economic powerhouse. Its convenient waterways were instrumental for commerce. For a substantial period, commercial competition between Lagash and the other city-states was healthy. There comes a time, however, when hostility rises and the need to settle disputes requires war.
Sculpture of Eannatum

Sculpture of Eannatum

Enter Eannatum, King of Lagash (c. 2455-2425 BCE), who established the first Mesopotamian empire in history through constant warring. But how did Eannatum achieve this, how did he create the first verifiable empire in history?
Eannatum, son of King Akurgal of Lagash, ascended the throne after his father got into a bit of a squabble with his northwestern neighbors, the city-state of Umma. Eannatum’s spat with Umma would lead him on a quest for dominance in the region… which would ultimately ruin his empire.
Tune in Next Week to see how Eannatum conquers the fertile crescent and builds the first empire.
“Lagash and the Too Fertile Valley” was written By Cam Rea
Cam Rea has a BA and MA in Military History. He recently published “March of the Scythians: From Sargon II to the Fall of Nineveh.” In addition, he is an ancient history junky and a Teaching Assistant at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
You can also grab the book on kindle HERE.